Friday, July 23, 2010

Knowing when to pick your battles

Everyone knows that in any family you're going to have arguments. They're inevitable like fast food drive thru windows. No matter how much you try to avoid them at some point you're going to find yourself sitting in front of one.

Petty issues like who took out the trash or who washed the dishes last shouldn't debilitate into arguments. This is a trivial matter that in the grand scheme of things carries no weight. For the sake of your family or in order to teach children values and responsibility you may very well have a chore list somewhere with a rotation of household jobs, however washing the dishes is everyone's responsibility who lives in the household. If you see there are dishes to be washed - wash them. This isn't rocket science.

Unfortunately not everyone sees it this way and sometimes things like whose job is whose or who did what last suddenly becomes a screaming match and in truth that's rarely what the argument is really about. It was the just trigger that fired the gun.

There are things which are worth fighting over and others that should be discussed in a calm rational voice. It's equally important to know when to listen, because for as many points of issue you may have with your spouse, significant other or children, remember that they have points with you as well. If you're going to throw down the gauntlet over trifling things be prepared to be called out on your own faults. This usually ends up in hurt feelings, words spoken that can't be undone and little is ever resolved in the end.

You would think that by now everyone knows this, but for some reason as a society it would seem we're getting worse in regards to others feelings, understanding responsibilities and the importance of having a strong family unit.

Regardless of the structure of your family, living and working together in a way that establishes harmony begins with someone stepping up to be the example. Doing what is expected, being respectful and considerate and listening are key elements that need to be demonstrated, practiced and followed.

At all times one hard fast rule should always be, "No whining!" Whining is an abhorrent and obnoxious trait in children so why do we tolerate it at any age? Whining indicates weakness. Weakness in the belief in one's self, weakness in strength of character and weakness in the person who gives in to it. In our house this is a point of battle.


Allowing someone to whine, particularly a child is setting them up for failure in life. The older they get whining becomes contagious to other areas of their life and morphs itself into belligerence, quitting and impudence. These are qualities which will only lead to someone who is incapable of functioning in life as an adult. Adults who do it are people whom nothing was or is ever expected of, they have few goals, no backbone, possess little perception and lack the mettle necessary to be a solid human being.

Can that be changed? Of course, but it takes far more effort to make an adult get over themselves than it does in a child. In a child this does not take brute force or anything of the sort, it's a matter of being strong-willed, stating how it's going to be and never backing down. Children and puppies have something in common - it's takes dedication, commitment, routine, a calm assertive presence and plenty of fun and love to help them reach their full potential.

Sometimes people get a puppy because they see it in the store window and think he's cute. "Ooooh isn't he sweet! Look at his little face!" They buy him, bring him home and then expect magic to just happen. Biologically the puppy will become a dog, but if no one ever works with him, tells him no or makes him behave he'll be a nightmare to deal with and eventually will be labeled a bad dog or unwanted. That's not the dog's fault - it's the owner's.

I'm in no way trying to compare the value of a child to that of a dog for those who would rather go up in arms about the statement than seeing the truth that lies in the analogy. It's sad, but often people have children, because they think they want to have a baby or find themselves in a position of a surprise pregnancy and once the full weight of that child's upbringing becomes realized the parent(s) give up, they drop the reigns. You'll hear them say things like, "It's easier to just give her what she wants or she'll scream for days."

If you do not give a child discipline, rules to follow and explain what's expected of them - then you get the same result as the unruly dog. That child becomes an unruly nightmare to deal with and is eventually labeled. Unless something dramatic happens that causes them to wake up unfortunately they will suffer the rest of their lives never realizing their full potential. This is the defining difference in the analogy - people can choose to behave differently even if they were never taught to do so. They can recognize their own faults and choose to change it. A dog does not have this luxury, he can be retrained, but will not initiate the change on his own. However hoping against hope that the people around you will just spontaneously elect to be gracious, considerate, and respectful without being shown how is like winning the lottery - not terribly likely but it does happen.

Picking your battles is more than just thinking something is worth fighting about, it's about seeing things on a grander scale. "If I let my child act like this today, how will they behave next week, or next year or 20 years from now?"

In the same token, "If I tolerate being treated like a doormat today from my husband how will he treat me next week, or next year or 20 years from now?"

It doesn't mean having a knock-down drag out screaming match. It means being calm-assertive. People whether they're two or 92 recognize that presence. Be articulate, reasonable and strong. Remember that not everything has to be a conflict, but what may be a battle today if handled correctly can be harmony tomorrow.

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